Insights from Our Local Artists
We're very lucky to have lots of amazing illustrators and artists here in Ireland, and we're proud to showcase and sell some of their work in Tales for Tadpoles. Some of our most popular prints in the shop are by local illustrators, including Jenni Kilgallon and Monika Mitkute.
One of the lovely things about stocking local artists is the opportunity to chat to them on a personal level. We took the opportunity to ask how they go about creating their artworks, what influences them, and why Ireland is an inspiring place for artists.
Illustrator Shannon Bergin's work expresses her love of books and storytelling. She works in both hand-drawn and digital illustration, but begins all of her pieces by hand: "Every piece begins as scribbles on a page, little notes of what I’m thinking and thumbnail sketches that are so rough nobody would ever be able to decipher them", Shannon told us. "I can then decide what to keep and what to scrap before starting on a full drawing. From there the sketch is created, either in pencil or digitally. Once that's nailed down I start painting".
Her work uses colours, shadow and light to create an atmosphere: "Colour is a huge focus and I often go through a lot of colour testing before beginning. It creates a mood and can often be just as important as the initial drawing. More and more, my work has moved further from traditional to digital- as it’s much easier to edit for clients. However, I always use traditional elements, scanned in and incorporated, in order to give it a more textural appearance which is sometimes missing in digital work".
Shannon's work often has little details that tell a story, and her images are very narrative. "Ireland is filled with stories", says the artist, "there's a belief in mythological figures and superstition that is embedded in our culture. Growing up, I was surrounded by storytellers. My grandparents would tell a story, half of which was very real and the other half, almost certainly fiction. Though who's to say the banshee didn't come visit one night, or that a man didn't get struck by lightning after trying to cut down a fairy tree?"
Shannon's evocative images really capture the joy of childhood and the freedom she enjoyed growing up in rural Ireland. She often draws scenes of imaginative play, or uses iconic characters like Paddington Bear and Harry Potter as inspiration. Children's books were a major influence on the artist when she was younger.
"The one book that I always think of from when I was really little is The Jolly Postman and Other People's Letters by Janet and Allen Ahlberg", says Shannon. "It's such a clever and fun book. My younger brother left it out in the rain, totally destroying it and I cried for over an hour! But I did pick up a copy of it recently, and it's just as brilliant as ever. However, my very favourite story is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It was likely the pain of losing The Jolly Postman that moved me towards much darker books!"
Jenni Kilgallon creates some of our bestselling prints. The artist lives in Dublin and has been part of Team Tadpole as a bookseller, as well as local supplier, for a few years. She shares our love of fairytales and iconic figures from children's literature and is heavily influenced by the rich imagery of Irish stories. "I grew up listening to the old Celtic myths and legends, which inspired much imagination, and I featured them largely in my work in art college. The legends are full of magic, other-worldly creatures, and deities which I just love! I recently created a collection of pieces based on some well known Celtic stories which are popular here in Tales for Tadpoles, with tourists and locals alike!"
Jenni's work is completely handmade from start to finish. Each print is hand-finished by the artist with unique detail on the mount, making each piece one-of-a-kind. We asked the artist to describe her physical process to us: "I would start by sketching my idea down in pencil and re-sketching various drafts until I'm happy with the composition and all other details. Then I would draw in my outline with ink".
"After that, the process can vary from piece to piece. Sometimes I'd apply wax crayon before painting for a different effect. Sometimes I'd get straight in with the watercolours, or mask off certain areas before painting and apply more detail later. In other pieces I just keep going with the ink. My latest piece I stained with a tea bag before painting in the detail for a sepia, old-time look!"
Classic fairy tales, especially the darker tales, have a big influence on Jenni's art and she enjoys putting her own spin on figures like Peter Pan and Little Red Riding Hood. Her Peter Pan print is one of our overall best sellers in the shop, and was made entirely with pen and ink. Jenni says, "I particularly love a tale where children are whisked away to another world that's full of magic and a certain danger too...so exciting! The quote I used from the book inspires hope, dreams and imagination so it's a lovely one for children".
Monika Mitkute is a Dublin based artist originally from Lithuania, where she studied printmaking. She has exhibited as a solo artist in London, Berlin, Toronto, the US and Japan. Her work is inspired by nature, fantasy, folktales from different cultures, and the people she has observed in all the countries she's travelled in. "People and places are a constant source of inspiration", says Monika, "even if they have no idea I went home and created something based on their actions. I'm always looking. So be careful what you do out there, some artist might be about to capture it!"
Her work is hand drawn, and she enjoys the free flowing nature of creating work by hand. "I like to come up with characters and details as I draw the final piece, so I don't plan too much ahead. This helps me to stay excited about the artwork as I do it. I know other artists like to plan every detail ahead of time, but I enjoy the freedom of the empty page."
Monika works in ink and a lot of her artwork is monochrome. Where she uses colour, it's often based on colours found in nature. Her family loved gardening and plants, which has influenced her botanical style. Monika's piece Eoghan is a good example of the way she uses monochrome and colour in contrast with each other, and also her botanical influence. "Eoghan would probably be the piece that’s brought the most attention to my work. The humour and work of surrealist artists are an added ingredient in most of my drawings."
"Eoghan makes me smile, and I hear the same feedback from those who own the print. Perhaps I relate to little Eoghan the acorn, whose head is full of ideas."
Local artist Isobel Devitt is another member of our bookselling team here at Tales for Tadpoles. She shares our passion for insightful illustration, and we’re glad to have her wonderfully nostalgic artwork of Dublin as part of our diverse selection of prints. Isobel makes wonderful use of colour, light, shadows, and shade in her drawings. “When I get an idea for a drawing, I usually think about the composition a lot in my mind before I actually start to draw,” Isobel told us. “Next, I choose a colour palette. Then I dive straight into sketching, adding colour as I go.” Isobel uses pencil almost exclusively in her artwork, occasionally delving into watercolour.
Out and About by Isobel Devitt
Although she has had a love for drawing since childhood, Isobel initially trained as a goldsmith, as the small scale and delicate detail of working with gold appealed to her. Isobel’s appreciation for intricacy can be seen in her drawings, which are full of tiny touches that add life and movement to each scene. She likes to think of the little details in her work making people smile, “a facial expression, or the colour of a dress, the way the fabric folds or scrunches,” there is always something new to notice.
Isobel finds inspiration for her artwork from all around her. “I’m inspired by so many things,” she shared. “My children have been the number one influence on my art - their funny games and the delight and wonder often evident on their faces - I love to try and capture those expressions.” In fact, it was Isobel’s journey of motherhood which led her to return to drawing. “When I became a mother I discovered the amazing world of picture books and I gradually returned to drawing, as I taught my son how to draw.” Polly, Isobel’s cat, makes an excellent studio companion and she too often finds her way into Isobel’s artwork, even though she has been known to knock over jars of pencils!
Isobel cites Dublin, the city where she grew up and has lived for most of her life, as another of her great inspirations. “I’m interested in Dublin architecture and the old and the new in the city, but especially the old!”
One Love by Isobel Devitt
Isobel’s love for Dublin is perhaps most evident in her piece ‘One Love.’ “One Love was inspired by a walk I took with a friend and her new puppy. The puppy, who was on a lead, walked in a circle around a lamppost and then took off in the opposite direction to us! It was a funny moment and I thought it would make a nice drawing. I changed some details though, including using the York Street flats in Dublin 2 in the background. These flats are an important part of the city and they are where so many children have grown up. Yet, because they’re not seen as architecturally beautiful, they’re rarely depicted in art.”
Isobel’s artwork is about taking the time to notice one’s surroundings and find the beauty in simple, everyday things and moments - something we all need to be reminded of from time to time!
Suzie Sullivan is an award winning fibre and polymer clay artist based in Mayo, who creates Derryaun Crafts. Her work is often inspired by Irish myths and legends and the wilderness surrounding her home. We stock prints of her amazing fibre artworks, which have a unique, instantly recognisable aesthetic and a beautiful emphasis on Irish nature.
We were fascinated by how Suzie creates these highly textured, layered, works and how they are transformed into prints. "The original artworks are made from hand dyed wool shaped with a felting needle and embellished with beads, wire and stitchery. Each piece involves many hours of work, from the initial design concept, dyeing and applying the fibre to a fabric base. Each original piece is scanned using the most up to date ‘Cruse Scanner’ which has been developed to scan textural work and gives the print a three dimensional appearance."
Suzie's piece Legends is an example of the deep influence that Irish mythology and history has on her creative output, and also of how she uses shape and perspective in her work. She told us "I have always been fascinated by Irish culture and wanted to create a colourful piece of work that reflected this theme. Legends was inspired by folk tales of old Ireland’s rich and mysterious past."
The piece is framed by a window, with each panel representing a different scene from Irish mythology. "The images capture the wildness and beauty of my home in south Mayo, from Gráinne Uí Mháille representing Mayo’s magnificent seaboard to The Salmon of Knowledge symbolizing our winding rivers." The piece represents a literal window to our past. "It was made from hand dyed wool shaped with a felting needle and embellished with beads, wire and stitchery. Legends won an award in the RDS National Craft Competition".
Common themes and influences unite many of our local artists, even though their styles are completely different. Suzie Sullivan of Derryaun Crafts and Jenni Kilgallon both love Irish legends, and when we asked what their favourite childhood book was they both chose The Wind in the Willows. We can see how the book's pastoral scenes could have influenced both artists' emphasis on Irish flora and fauna in their work.
Browse our full range of prints by local artists here.
Cover image: Three Musketeers by Monika Mitkute.
Over the past few years children have become more and more involved in the environmental movement and now there are loads of fantastic eco-awareness books aimed at children. We've pulled together some of our favourite books which celebrate the natural world and will get children excited about taking care of the environment.